Like most people in the United States, I have been keeping close tabs on the intense political negotiations involved in the raising of the debt limit ceiling, something that involves both grinding details about fiscal technicalities and high political theater. I won't attempt to cover every angle of this, because I haven't been keeping that close of track, and plus I said most of what I mean to say years ago.
Instead, I will do something I usually loathe: give a single folksy example of a concrete instance that happened to me, and tie it into the nation's problems at large. This Tuesday, I had a tooth removed, a procedure that was long overdue and relatively easy. After having the tooth removed, I was driven to the local Walgreens, where I had two prescriptions filled. One was for Vicodin, a drug I had not previously had. The other was for ibuprofen, a drug that I had already been taking. This was not just normal ibuprofen, though, this was prescription strength ibuprofen. For seven dollars, I got a small orange bottle with 15 800 milligram pills in it.
Checking online, Walgreens sells a bottle of non-prescription ibuprofen, 1000 200 milligram pills, for 20 dollars. This comes out to 10 grams for a dollar. My prescription ibuprofen was 12 grams for 7 dollars, or about 2 grams for a dollar. My prescription therefore cost over five times as much as I would pay for the same medication over the counter. While there may be some incredibly slight advantage of taking one 800 milligram pill instead of 4 200 milligram pills, it seems that the added cost is almost pure waste.
Being that I had a numb mouth full of blood, and was under the influence of Halcion, I didn't take the time to argue about unit cost with the pharmacist.
The reader may be wondering why I prefaced a story about money wasted on an ubiquitous drug with a discussion of the United States' financial situation. The reason is, that a large part of the United States' financial obligation is the ever-inflating cost of health care. While much of this is due to the fact that medicine can do things that are incredibly useful, a lot of it has to do with the fact that there is an entire culture and mystique built up around health care, and a gap between how the economics of Capital-H, Capital-C Health Care works, and the actual economics of production of the materials involved. And while I can't track every instance of this, and I can't say how it impacts programs like Medicare and Medicaid, for sheer, simple, populist example, I will say that the fact that I basically paid eight dollars for a little orange bottle is something that should be thought about.